‘Ackee and Saltfish’ is a mini-series created by filmmaker Cecile Emeke. Continuing from an earlier short film which follows the interactions between friends Olivia and Rachael as they search for ackee and saltfish in gentrified Dalston. It reflects on the rapidly changing nature of London, a place where travelling around on public transportation has become a privilege of the few who can afford a £12 travelcard (off-peak). A London where the historical Portobello Road Market is being decimated until all that is left is a Cath Kidson and All Saints and GBK.
‘Ackee & Saltfish’ characters Rachel and Olivia are young adults who I recognise and relate to, they are not on council estates growing weed or selling their bodies, and they are not compliant token characters nodding and supporting a predominantly white cast. They love Lauryn Hill and Solange Knowles, bicker like long-time friends and dance in the street. Their fashion and hairstyles also reflect another boundary breaking image of black women, not subscribing to label-toting or Rihanna reverence in their dress. Representing the modern, young, Black British woman. Wandering around London with confidence and anger yet hope and happiness underlies their sense of being.
The webseries comes in short 5-10 minutes bursts. Sparse plot and dialogue are animated by the chemistry between the two lead actresses, carrying the premise home. I see Rachel and Olivia as British Abbie and Ilana from ‘Broad City’, their playful teasing and shared obsessions mimicking what is present in so many real world female friendships. Both ‘Broad City’ and ‘Ackee & Saltfish’ offer a refreshing and welcome look at relationships between women. Rather than focusing of hyperbolic rivalry and poisonous dependency, Rachel and Olivia are individuals with minds of their own who happen to enjoy each other’s company and can joke around without any hearts being broken or houses being burnt down.
Cecile Emeke has said that she wanted to recreate the relationships she has and highlight the funny moments she shares with friends. That is probably what gives ‘Ackee & Saltfish’ its flesh and blood. Dancing in a carpet store to hide from the rain, shared lamentations over whether your celebrity idol will adopt you, being outraged by your dearest friend’s strange eating habits after you thought you really knew her – and it turns out she likes Marmite and you never felt more different – because it’s all happened to us and it’s nostalgic and astute. Moreover it shows the dynamic of Black friends, who aren’t bonded by trauma or violence, and we see them go about their mundane lives without much drama or tension. Contrasting with mainstream portrayals of Black characters, Olivia and Rachel are young women just looking for some good Jamaican food in their changing neighbourhood.
Emeke’s fictional mini-series is only one element of the filmmaker’s work in exploring the experiences of the marginalised in European society with the documentary interview series ‘Strolling’ standing alongside as its sister project.The series, like Cecil Emeke’s other works, asserts the fact that we only seem to see one story of Blackness in mainstream media. Whilst these stereotypes are not necessarily untrue, they are only one element of a multifaceted and diverse community. The subjects of ‘Strolling’ and its European counterparts are engaging because they mirror many opinions I have, they seem more relatable than most representations I see of young Black men and women in the media, and this is true of ‘Ackee & Saltfish’ too. I’m sure I’ve repeated myself on this point – it’s refreshing and inspiring to see Black kids having fun, being silly, not serious, living boring lives, trying to make sense of injustice and change and racism and stagnation. I feel as though there is a voice that accurately reflects mine. While this may seem like an unimportant statement to most people, it makes all the difference for a young black girl who’s always felt like an outsider.